I just experienced one of the most interesting weekends of my life. It was a cultural experience like none other. If you have a minute, I’d love to tell you about it.
A Surprise Invitation
It all started at the end of October. My husband and I had spent three weeks in the mountains of North Carolina. As with all of our travels, we came home to a stack of mail. In that stack, there was an envelope addressed to “Our Neighbors Across the Street”. Intriguing. It was an invitation to a wedding!
I am ashamed to admit it, but we had not officially met our neighbors across the street, even though they have lived there over a year. I know, I should have taken some muffins or a plant over to them when they first moved in but I didn’t. I procrastinated. I made excuses. We waved to each other as we were coming and going but that was the extent of it.
Imagine my surprise when we were invited to their daughter’s wedding which would take place at their house. And not only was it an invitation to a wedding but two weddings. You see, my neighbors across the street are Hindu. We were invited to the Hindu ceremony on Friday afternoon and a traditional American ceremony on Saturday night. My husband and I talked about it and decided that attending would be the neighborly thing to do.
Fortunately, another neighbor used to work as an event planner, specializing in Hindu weddings, so I turned to her for some advice. She told me what to expect, how to dress, what gift to take, etc. She even offered to let me borrow her sari. As generous as that was, I opted to wear my own skirt and blouse.
Wedding Number One
The day of the wedding came and as westerners, we arrived slightly before the time on the invitation. There was just a handful of people there. We spoke to the father of the bride and he let us know that the priest was stuck in traffic coming from Orlando so things would be starting a little late.
The ceremony was late in starting but what we experienced was worth the wait. The sights, sounds and smells almost caused a sensory overload. It was like nothing we have experienced before.
Guests arrived wearing the most beautiful apparel. The women wore every color of the rainbow intricately embroidered with gold or silver thread. They were adorned with bracelets, necklaces and barrettes of gold and some had delicate designs of henna on their hands. The men were dressed almost as ornately. I loved our neighbor’s gold Indian-style shoes with the curved-up toes.
As we waited for the ceremony to begin, we visited with some other neighbors. They heard the groom was to arrive on a white horse. Instead, he arrived in a decorated red convertible, his groomsmen followed behind.
It would take too many words to describe the ceremony that followed but it was beautiful. The bride wore an exquisite, yellow gown embroidered in gold. Her mother’s dress was similar. There was a lot of ritual involving water, incense, fire and flowers. The Indian music was exotic and ethereal. We were held in rapt attention for the two-hour ceremony. One of my favorite things was how involved the parents were.
Unfortunately, we had to leave as soon as the ceremony was over so we weren’t able to sample the delicious food we had been smelling all afternoon. When we returned home later that night, the celebration was still going on.
Wedding Number Two
The ceremony on Saturday evening was a typical American wedding. There were bridesmaids and groomsmen and the bride wore a white dress and veil. They had a traditional Father/Daughter dance and Mother/Son dance as well as a first dance for the bride and groom. There was food, dancing and toasts. I saw a traditional wedding cake but I had to leave before they cut it.
But, my favorite thing about the evening was the people.
I went to the Saturday ceremony by myself, which is a pretty daring move for me. My husband had previous plans (and if you know my husband you can probably guess what those plans were). I found my assigned table on the seating chart and went to sit down. There was a family of three already seated and we introduced ourselves. The mom was an extremely friendly, vivacious woman from Trinidad and her husband was from St. Croix. A few minutes later, some relatives of the bride’s father joined us. They had flown down from Toronto but were originally from British Guiana, now known as the independent nation of Guyana. It was a real international mix.
Those few hours at the wedding were so much fun. We talked, laughed and shared a meal together. We danced in celebration of the bride and groom. I left the party with five new friends.
If I had to use one word to describe the events of the weekend it would be joyful. I didn’t know the young couple who joined their lives and their hearts together this weekend but I am so thankful that I was included in this joyful celebration. It makes me even more excited for my son’s wedding next month.
So, what’s the take away from all of this? Go out on a limb — do the unexpected. If you’re invited to a wedding where you don’t know anyone, go! Especially if it’s a different cultural experience. You may learn you have more things in common than you thought. Meet new people and celebrate joyful things with them. Finally, get to know your neighbors — after all, how are you going to love them if you don’t know them?